Sunday, 11 December 2011
Anxiety - What's It All About Anyways?
Many have felt the dark cloud of anxiety and depression in their lives. Usually they manifest during times of life change and stressful events. For anxiety, you may experience sweaty palms, a pounding heart, light-headed or feel even worse. For depression you may feel low, down, heavy or just not-like-yourself. These are natural stress-reactions but if these symptoms of anxiety and depression seem overwhelming or are preventing you from doing what you’d like to be doing, or living your life the way you’d like to be living it, you might have an anxiety disorder or depression.
Today I am going to discuss anxiety. Depression and anxiety are often co-morbid disorders. This means that they usually present together, or as one after the other. I will explain in another article how depression is linked with anxiety, but for today, we will consider anxiety and panic attacks.
Anxiety is a natural reaction of the body to perceived threats. Our minds and bodies are hardwired to understand the immediacy of escaping or fighting to protect ourselves... Unfortunately, in this day and age, we are no longer facing live-or-die type situations on a regular basis. Our hardwired anxiety machinery has nothing to fret about! So, we fret about traffic. We worry about money. We are scared of seemingly harmless things. This is because of our “fight-or-flight” system.
When a threat is perceived by a part of the brain known as the amygdala (the oldest portion of the brain) the sympathetic nervous system sparks into action, triggering cascades of hormones coursing throughout your brain and body. The adrenal glands (special glands atop the kidneys) release adrenaline. We’re all familiar with this hormone – the rush of excitement and fear when on a rollercoaster is due to adrenaline’s release into our bloodstream.
That same fear and buzz we get on the rollercoaster is what plagues most anxiety sufferers. Generally, it comes out of the blue. Suddenly the room begins to spin and you feel your heart pounding! Are you having a heart attack? Are you going crazy? No! this is an anxiety attack in the making!
Anyone who has ever experienced one of these will know that it’s a rough ride. You might even end up in emergency thinking you really are dying or going crazy! Don’t worry though no one has ever died from panic. It’s almost impossible.
Now, after the panic attack is over, the frightening physical symptoms you’ve experienced will influence you to have thoughts about what just happened. These tend to be negative and future-based thoughts. You will definitely start thinking about how you’ll want to avoid another panic attack in the future! These thoughts can become more and more detailed and will ingrain themselves on your mind. You see, in the wild when we were foraging and fighting for our survival daily against large predators, we had to remember the situations in which we felt these fearful things – so that we could prevent it in the future to continue living.
So our ancient little amygdala is only doing its job. Unfortunately for us, its software is a few thousand years outdated.
So we get ourselves worked up and negative thoughts begin to muddle and cloud our brains. This leads to us changing our behaviours in order to avoid these feelings and thoughts. However, this is not a practical solution for the long-term because it actually makes the anxiety worse! By trying to avoid the situations in which you’ve experienced anxiety you are feeding the anxiety. Your next panic attack may be worse, and will likely be in a place you’ve never experienced one – by the fact that you have been avoiding those previous places associated with panic.
The best way to deal with a panic attack is to: wait. That’s all. Breathe deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth and wait. Panic attacks are short-lived – it’s the nature of the system. They may last up to thirty minutes but their intensity usually doesn’t exceed an hour or so. You may feel residually shaky for another few hours, but the brunt of the storm is usually over after 30 or so minutes.
Take a deep breath. Feel better?